Day 05 : The Good, the Bad, and the Art Nouveau

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Panic over. I managed to find a pub in the centre of Riga which sold lots of proper Latvian beer. It was an underground place, almost a club (and they do have live music quite often), called “ALA” (it’s a folk club, of all things). As I hadn’t eaten much all day, and I’m trying to make sure I don’t overspend in my last couple of days in the Western World, I only had two …
I also had what the menu defined as ‘traditional food’, most of which involved rye bread. (The main course consisted of what can only be described as grey-black peas in a hollowed-out crust of a rye loaf, covered in bacon coleslaw.) Since the beers I had in Estonia tended to be made with rye too, it seems that this, rather than wheat, is the standard cereal crop of this part of the world.
I don’t know if anything bad happens if you overdose on rye bread when you’re not used to it, but I guess I’ll find out shortly.

The hostel bed was pretty comfortable, although the room was a little on the warm side. They’ve done my laundry (for7 euro) so there should be no lasting musty effects of the Baltic rain. Fortunately, while there was a thunderstorm today, I was in a museum for most of it

Ah yes, a museum. As stated previously, I only really like museums of local interest, of something I can’t see anywhere else. Today saw me going to two of them, both on a similar topic. The second of them, the one that protected me from the rain, was another ‘occupation’ museum (similar to that in Tallinn, but structured differently). It concentrated more on the Nazi occupation than the other one did – pretty much giving those three years ‘equal billing’ to the pre- and post-occupation of the Soviet era.
Earlier in the day, when the sun was shining bright, I had a wander around the mainly outdoor museum near the hostel – the Ghetto Museum. This very much looks at specifically the effects of Nazi rule on the Jewish community in Riga; this area of the city, just to the South and East of the railway station, was originally ‘Moscow Town’ but the Nazis turned it into the Jewish Ghetto. Riga was also used as a ‘final destination’ for Jews all over Europe, so there’s a lot of history here. Part of the museum has a recreation of a typical Ghetto home, filled with period features (even down to a robe on the bed with the defining yellow star); another part of the museum is a room filled with cubes hanging down from the ceiling that briefly gives detail on the lives of some of the people who passed through here. Very few of them survived.
It’s weird that I’m attracted to these places, even though I’ve seen the same things all around the world- you’d have thought I’d seen everything by now and not be learning anything new. But still I’m drawn to them, to learning about why societies do this to each other; even if it’s the same, it never gets old or boring. Maybe it never should.

On a different note, today also saw me doing another of these ‘free walking tours’ that I’ve done in most of the cities that I’ve visited so far. This one was pretty cool, hosted by a Latvian-Australian, with the expected stereotypical banter of course. This was not a tour of the standard tourist area either, but rather lurking on the outskirts of the Old Town, from the Central Market in the South of the city centre, around to the parks to the North-East.

The Central Markets are huge they’re made up of five WW1 zeppelin hangars, left in the countryside by the Germans and relocated after the war when the city decided they needed a permanent market area. In addition, there is also a huge outdoor area too, making the market area one of the biggest I’ve been to. It’s quite a cheap place, but of course the knowledge of English is much lower, making purchasing a little trickier for dumb tourists like me. I did get a sausage roll and a small caramel cake though for 78 cents, which is definitely pretty cheap.

We also passed by quite a few Art Nouveau buildings – this seems to have been the trend here at the very start of the 20th Century, when Riga was expanding very quickly. Art Nouveau being allegedly representative of brightness, sunshine, and countryside (mmmh), the architects at the time seemed that it fitted in nicely to a city whose Winters are cold and dark. Indeed, Riga has one of the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.

So, tomorrow I have almost a full day in Riga before getting a flight to Bishkek, via an overnight stop in an airport in Moscow. Still a bit apprehensive about Bishkek, I’ll either panic and retreat into my shell, or I’ll love it. We will see.

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